Free all South African Political Prisoners: support the Non-Stop Picket

An early City of London Anti-Apartheid Group protest

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 23 October 1982


Life on the non-stop picket

There are about fifty 'hard-core' picketers who spend most of their time on the picket, the majority of them youth. A typical day sees about a hundred people joining and leaving the picket and overnight anything between five and twenty-five people sleeping on the picket. Enthusiastic political work goes on almost constantly, leafleting, petitioning and explaining to passers-by, unison singing of South African freedom songs and spirited chanting of militant slogans.

In the mid-evenings the Kitson family chair 'The Picket University'. Everyone gathers round and a volunteer gives a short talk, followed by discussion. The subjects are agreed by majority vote. There have been talks on the struggle in South Africa, British investment in South Africa, the history of the ANC, the liberation struggle in Ireland, police harassment, women's struggles, the American labour movement and many others. The 'picket university' has proved an exciting way of furthering political education — and it's also enjoyable!

A black youth on the picket: ‘I came to this picket because I think what these people are fighting for is right, there should not be a different law set out for blacks and whites. The other reason I joined was because I thought the people on the picket are really putting up a good fight and really determined to win’

 Everyone participates in the work — everyone takes on responsibilities. Getting food and drink, looking after equipment etc. There's also time to rest, read, listen to the radio, chat and tell jokes. Despite the police harassment, the city roar and the driving rain, the life of the picket goes on.

All kinds of groups visit the picket — one night Palestinians came and chanted 'ANC/PLO One Struggle One Fight!' Another time parents of children murdered by the British Army in the Six Counties of Ireland, joined the picket and chanted ‘ANC/Irish People — One Struggle One Fight!’ The unity and internationalism of the picket points the way forward to the future.


On the 25th August (my father David Kitson's 63rd birthday) our family began a non-stop picket outside South Africa House/Embassy, in Trafalgar Square, to save his life. My father is in his 19th year of imprisonment. He was imprisoned for membership of the African National Congress, and for the stand which he took against the barbarity of apartheid. Since 1979 he has been held in the section for the criminally insane in Pretoria Central Gaol, without heating, hot water, and with inadequate exercise facilities. For the last two years he has suffered with bronchitis. The South African government has stated many times since 1979 that they will move the political prisoners to a more suitable prison. The latest undertaking, given to the British Government, stated that he would be moved by 1 August 1982. This has not happened. The Kitson family and Anti Apartheid Movement (City Branch) then called the Picket.

We have no doubts that after the vain attempts at breaking my father's spirit the South African fascist regime would try to kill him — they tried to break my father’s spirit by: delaying his letters for 3 months, detaining and torturing his son, murdering his main contact with the outside — my aunt, Joan Alison Weinberg.

But nothing will break my father's spirit. When I went to South Africa in March to comfort him he and the other prisoners ended up giving me courage! The South African fascist regime decided to kill him, but because he is white and well known they would have to do it by 'natural causes'. They are denying him adequate medical care and keeping him in conditions likely to worsen and destroy his health. But they will not succeed!

So far the picket has forced the apartheid regime to send a doctor to visit my dad. This was within 3 days of the start of the picket. Later on September 9th the British Foreign Office were informed that my dad would be moved to a new jail on September 11th. They didn't move him but have now said that they will move him at an 'early date'. We are determined that he will be moved to better conditions and that he will be released.

We are using my father's example to highlight the plight of ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN SOUTH AFRICA most of whom are black.

We have all kinds of support for our picket — a hundred and ninety six MPs from all parties, the whole of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Trade Unions, Trade Councils, the GLC, community groups, political groups and also 'ordinary' people of all ages including the over eighties. The mainstay of the picket are the black and white youth — punks, skinheads, Rastas — all victims of British capitalism —most of them unemployed and subject to police harassment. (One of them said to me 'I'm a punk with a future in a country that has none!')

All of us have braved the weather conditions and consistent police harassment and out and out racism. Not only can we save my Dad's life, we are using the picket to build real support for his movement the African National Congress — and our leaders like Nelson Mandela. The courage and dedication of the picketers especially the youth proves to me that they will be the forces to build a movement capable of winning.

The youth on the picket are learning that in order to take a stand against apartheid they come up against the British state in the form of police attacks. And they realise this is because it is British imperialism that is the life blood of apartheid. The racism in South Africa starts here!

This is not just a question for South Africans — for to take a stand against apartheid you have to attack British racism and British imperialism.

A victory for the South African people would be a victory for the British people.

Victory to the Progressive people in Britain!

Victory to ANC & SWAPO!

Amandla Kitson


The support the British state gives to racist South Africa is exposed by the incessant police harassment of the picket, which has included 12 charges against 7 picketers. The police have not succeeded in their attempt to intimidate/stop the picket: organised defence of those arrested has meant that, at the time of going to press, the picket has won 4 charges out of 4 in the courts, and those on the picket line have continued more determined than before.

There have been 10 charges of ‘obstruction of the highway'/’obstruction of the police'. Sharon Cunningham and Steve Burrows have been charged with both these 'offences' on the first night of the picket. Steven Kitson was acquitted of both charges. Uta Parker was charged with obstruction of the highway for selling Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! — she was acquitted. Norma Kitson has twice been arrested for obstruction and also faces a charge in connection with the collection of donations on the picket: ironically the police themselves stole the bucket with £16 and refused to give a receipt! Harassment has not been confined to arrests: on 3 September at 4.30am a police car drew up alongside the picket and proceeded to 'test its siren' until all the picketers were awake! Norma Kitson is filing an assault case against the police, and all cases of police harassment on the picket have been recorded together with the numbers of the policemen involved.

Harassment has not been confined to the picket itself. On 27 September Derrick Blackwood appeared in court charged with 'insulting words likely to cause a breach of the peace'. To the despair of the police he was acquitted, and to exact their revenge they arrested another black youth, Shafid Rafiq, in the courthouse. He was placed in a cell with 4 skinheads, although, unlike the police, they did not attack him. Charged with 'obstructing the police in the course of their duty', Shafid was not released until the following morning when a barrister spoke in his defence. Meanwhile, outside the court we held a picket to demand Shafid's release. Again we were harassed and insulted by the police, and at one stage Amandla Kitson, who was leading the chanting, was taken before the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street, who interrupted the trial he was involved in, to order her to be silent upon threat of arrest. In addition to the pressure of defence lawyers, packed courtrooms and pickets of the courts, a growing number of MPs have complained about the police harassment of the picket including Ernie Roberts, Stanley Clinton Davis and Reg Race. Picketers have collected money for the defence of those arrested and back on the picket of the South African Embassy the slogan 'British collaboration with apartheid — out! out! out!' has been chanted ever more vigorously. Many have learnt from the picket that solidarity with the freedom fighters in South Africa necessarily means a struggle against the British state: British imperialism has too much at stake in southern Africa to allow this solidarity to develop unhindered. The picket has shown that the British state will use increasingly repressive methods against those who take the side of the oppressed fighting imperialism. The picket has shown that this collaboration with apartheid can be defeated.

Chris Fraser

 FRFI supports the picket

On the 14 September FRFI held a successful public meeting in Camden Labour Centre to build support for the picket. 70 people came to hear Norma Kitson who had recently received a letter from David Kitson saying we should 'cultivate the shoots'. Bobby and Ruby, two black youngsters, explained to the meeting why they are supporting it. Carol Brown from FRFI spoke of the uprisings in Britain last year, of the need to build an anti-imperialist movement in solidarity with the oppressed masses of South Africa and all those fighting imperialism throughout the world...Also speaking at the meeting was Chris Fraser on behalf of the City Branch AAM. A large proportion of the audience were in fact young and from the picket which actually illustrated the central message of all the speakers. The militant feeling of the picket was re-created by singing and slogan chanting.

In addition, every week, FRFI has held a street meeting with picketers in Brixton, Archway and Stroud Green where speeches have been made, money collected and hundreds of people have signed the petition, proving just how widespread is the support among the oppressed in these areas.

A white youth on the picket: ‘I'm here because everyone should have equality. No one should be inferior to anyone else...David Kitson symbolises the fight everywhere of oppressed people...Everyone should have the right to self-determination ... friendship and freedom'.


On 16th September 250 people joined the lunchtime picket amongst whom were many Labour MP's and TU leaders. They included MPs such as Reg Race, Frank Dobson, Stanley Clinton Davis, Roy Hattersley and many others. Trade unions represented included the Fire Brigades Union, the NUJ, USDAW, AUEW-TASS. The ASTMS was represented by Clive. Jenkins, the unions General Secretary. They joined in the songs and slogans led by the youth of the picket expressing their—the Labour Party and Trade Union movement's—support. The presence of these Labour movement leaders and members of the press meant that the police stood by impotently and made no arrests.


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